Holiday Magic While Thinking of My Demented Mom

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It’s December 28, 2014, a few days after the first Christmas without my Mom, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reflecting, thinking and reflecting. Looking through papers and things of hers, if only to feel closer to her during the holidays…especially this holiday.

So, yesterday, the Saturday after Xmas, I’ve finished my errands outside of the house, I’m home and had decided to straighten up things that have been on my list for a long time. Cleaning up stacks of paperwork that have been begging to be organized and filed for ages, put away the wrapping paper, bows, tissue paper and ribbons, clean the birds, wash the dog, vacuum the floor, clean the bathroom…all those things that you really must do, but really don’t want to do, uh-huh!

So, as I am going along, one thing leads to another and I made the decision to bring my mother’s end table into my bedroom. I had bought it for her when she first decided to come live with me and I liked it very much. Now of course, it just reminds me of her when I look at it. It needs to be refinished as she had ruined the surface during her OCD days, but I will do that in the springtime. I brought the table into my room and started making a few changes, cleaning around, moving things from here to there. It was kind of nice, a quiet time in my weekend, almost like getting myself re-grounded after a hard year. As a kid, I had always felt like a new person after moving the furniture around in my bedroom, which is what yesterday was feeling like to me. Some people need to go out and spend money…I move furniture!

As I was going through the motions, I came across a box of jewelry that Mom had sent to me before she moved here. It wasn’t expensive jewelry, mostly costume from the 60’s & 70’s, but I had remembered some it from when I was younger. I had looked through it back when she had sent it, but didn’t pay much attention, which seems to be my MO. I always feel funny in a situation like that. I know darn well she sent those things to me because she was thinking of death and dying as older people eventually do…but I don’t feel the right to it until later, afterwards, so I ignore it. Well, yesterday, I paid more attention, looking at each piece carefully. I came across many little pieces that I remember her wearing to her job and a few things that I didn’t remember.

Then, there was one thing that stood out, a very tarnished silver ID bracelet with her name on it. Instantly, it brought me back to a story that she told me a few years ago, when she still had a memory and could articulate it, before the dementia had taken over her mind. As the story goes…when her and her sister Lillian were just kids, a new Pastor came to their church, St. Andrews. Apparently Lillian had quite a crush on this good-looking Pastor, but it was just a schoolgirl crush and maybe the pastor knew about it or maybe not. We’ll never know the answer to that.

One Sunday, after Sunday school, the Pastor gave my mother a little ID bracelet and poor Lillian was so hurt by it. She felt awful and so did my Mother. Mom didn’t have a crush on the Pastor, she was 5 years younger than her sister and probably wasn’t interested in any boys at that point. Lillian eventually got over it, grew up, got married and had 4 beautiful children…so what was meant to be, indeed happened.

ID_bracelet Photos Above: (1) Eleanor Sarter and Sister Lillian with Freda, her Aunt, (2) Lillian and Eleanor, Right: (3) ID Bracelet from Pastor.

Getting back to the ID bracelet, the instant that I saw it, read her given name on it, the story that she had told me a few years earlier came flooding back to me. I wished that I could have made the connection before now and was able to show her. I’m sure that she didn’t even remember that she had sent it to me in the first place. Sometimes I think that she leads me to find things to make a connection to it’s meaning…from wherever she is…not so far-fetched. Stranger things have happened, which is another story for another time as this was not the first time this has happened since she left us.


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Lillian Sarter and Her Sister Eleanor, Uncovering a Lifetime of Photos

lillian_babyThe featured photos are of: (1) Lillian Sarter in a beautiful colorized photo as a baby, (2) Lillian and Mom, Eleanor, with their great grandmother on the Sarter side, (3) Mom, Eleanor and Lillian with their great grandmother years later on the same stoop in Brooklyn

This past weekend, I spent my Sunday cleaning out a closet…a huge closet in my bedroom. Aside from the obvious things stored in a bedroom closet, like clothes, there are all the family photos and documents that I had inherited from my grandmother that dates way back, which I find invaluable for our Sarter family history. I like to keep them upstairs rather than the damp and dank basement, if only in hopes of preserving them as best I can. Also, I still have a lot of looking through to do because I am sure that I have things that I haven’t yet realized. Some people spend a lifetime of hours trying to find a history of their family tree. This one was given to me and hopefully I can do good by it.

So, in cleaning the closet, I came across the above beautiful photo of my Aunt Lillian, Mom’s sister, as a very little girl. It was professionally taken and obviously colorized, since back then they didn’t have color film. It was beautifully done so this photo was a real find. After finding it, I remember that my mother had sent it to me years before she came to join my in NY. In the box, with the framed photo of Aunt Lillian, were (2) 78 speed records that Lillian had recorded with her singing voice so many years before. I know there is a written story somewhere about these recordings and I know exactly I have been told the verbal story as well at some point, but it was so long ago, that I don’t recall. I do know that their Aunt Emily Sarter aspired to be an opera singer and also made recordings until she had gone deaf, which seems to run in the family from their father’s side of the family. Her inspiration to sing could have come from her Aunt Emily. Every time that I find something like this in the archive of my history, it sends me on a winding journey through deep thought for the rest of the day.

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About 9 years ago, I came across the Birkenhoerdt Project, which includes a family tree of the Sarters, dating way back in history. It shows a very detailed tree of the Sarters from Germany and their spouses, children, births, deaths. I thought it was the most interesting thing that I have ever seen relating to our family history from the Sarter side. I started with my grandfather’s name and went on from there…it’s amazing. You can find it at:

I would love to find an old photo of my mother like that, but I suspect it wasn’t done for the second child…as it usually happens. If there was one taken, maybe I will find it in the box of old papers and documents that I have from my grandparents that I still, to this day I have not finished going though….not for a lack of desire, but from lack of time. This going to work thing doesn’t seem to allow for personal interests, but since I need a roof over my head and food on the table, I do it which keeps me away from the house for 12 hours a day…not to mention getting up at 5 am in the morning….long day! Eventually, something has got to give…but till then, it will be… hi-ho, hiho, it’s off to work I go, only to work on my interests with stolen time!

Aunt Lillian was a very interesting person. From what my mother had told me, they were very close as children. I often wonder if Lilian wasn’t taken by leukemia so early on…would she have been afflicted with dementia like her father and sister? Maybe she would have been one of the lucky ones? She was the first to leave us and my mother the last, both with such different lives…goals…hopes and dreams. If my beliefs are correct, they left this earth because they had accomplished what they were here to do…Lillian, to create 4 beautiful children, Michael, David, Maggi and Sam, Eleanor, my Mom, bringing me into the world, working out her fears and disorders and having a successful career in NYC.

If my beliefs are correct, they left this earth because they had accomplished what they were here to do…Lillian, to create 4 beautiful children, Michael, David, Maggi and Sam, Eleanor, my Mom, bringing me into the world, working out her fears and disorders and having a successful career in NYC.

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